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Dayton bonding proposals range from small projects to fixing state Capitol

ST. PAUL – Minnesota would borrow money for relatively small projects, such as $775,000 to improve Clara City streets, to a massive one all Minnesotans would notice, like the planned $109 million Capitol building renovation, under the governor’s public works funding proposal.

On Monday, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he proposes borrowing and spending $750 million – an amount needed to catch up after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and GOP legislators stymied efforts in recent years to approve many of the projects.

Republicans, whose votes are needed to pass a public works bill, generally criticized the governor’s plan as being too spendy and not needed this year.

Dayton said his plan should produce 21,000 jobs, including sending many unemployed back to work. He emphasized projects that are ready to begin.

“Many of them have been delayed for years and are needed to revitalize downtown business centers, modernize college classrooms and laboratories and improve infrastructure throughout our state,” he said of the projects.

Unlike most bills this year, Democrats who control the House and Senate will need Republican support since the Constitution requires a public works funding bill to receive three-fifths support in each chamber.

Republicans were not ready to give that support Monday.

“Tomorrow, House Democrats are expected to unveil a bonding list that seeks to borrow even more money than proposed by Gov. Dayton,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said. “This continues a disturbing pattern from Democrats who seem to be competing to see who can raise taxes higher and spend the most money.”

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he does not see why a public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds, is needed this year. Lawmakers normally pass major bonding bills in years when they are not writing a budget; this year, they are considering a $38 billion, two-year budget.

Hann said he supports state Capitol renovation, but is not convinced a bonding bill is needed to begin the major portion of the project. And in any case, he said, the Dayton plan “is too big” overall.

Dayton and Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk emphasized the need to work on the Capitol. After $109 million in this year’s bill, Dayton said, about $95 million more would be needed next year.

Work has been completed on fixing the dome and is beginning on the outside marble walls. Renovation supporters say major improvements are needed to fix air quality, electrical, plumbing, mechanical and structural issues.

“We can either do this once and for all ... or we can be in a perpetual state of asset preservation,” Cronk said.

Dayton said 43 percent of the projects, including Capitol work, would be in the Twin Cities area, with 34 percent elsewhere and 23 percent with statewide impact.

Like other governors, much of the emphasis in his plan is on state-run colleges and universities. He calls for $71.2 million in state funds for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and $71.7 million for the University of Minnesota.

One item Dayton left out of the bonding bill was a $500 million-plus request from Mayo Clinic to help Rochester prepare for a $3.5 billion expansion. Dayton said he is not sure the current proposal is the right one.

State officials received more than $3 billion in requests for projects.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.